Yes. Maine law gives tenants an "implied warranty of habitability." This means that your landlord must promise that your home is safe and healthy to live in.
Examples of problems your landlord has a duty to fix:
- undrinkable water
- no heat or too little heat in the winter
- there are insects, rats, or mice inside your house
- broken windows or exterior doors that cannot be locked
- unsafe heating system
- leaking ceilings
- missing or broken smoke or carbon monoxide detectors
- you do not have electricity, running water, or hot water
The heating system should be able to heat your living space to at least 68°.
What can I do if my home is not safe?
Ask your landlord to fix the problem. It is a good idea to ask for this in writing, like in a text message or email. If your landlord does nothing, write a formal letter to your landlord. You can use this form repair request letter to your landlord.
Call your city hall or town office and ask to speak with someone about the problems in your building. If your town has a building code enforcement officer, you can ask that person to visit your home to inspect the problems, and send the landlord a letter demanding that they fix any code violations. State law also requires each town to have a health officer, who can inspect and order that unhealthy conditions be fixed. Also, each town must have a local plumbing inspector to enforce state and local plumbing-related rules.
If the conditions in your home are very dangerous, a code or health officer might order everyone to leave the building. However, this is unusual: in most cases, the town will give your landlord a chance to fix the problem before ordering everyone to leave.
If you cannot get local help, you may be able to get some help from these state agencies:
- Fire hazards:
State Fire Marshall's Office
- Electrical wiring problems:
Find the state electrical inspector for your location
- Plumbing problems:
624-8639 TTY users call Maine relay 711
- Wastewater, drinking water, and radon:
DHHS Division of Environmental Health
TTY users: Call Maine relay 711
- Wastewater program: 287-5689
- Drinking water (questions about private well water): 866-292-3474 or 207-287-4311, TTY: Call Maine Relay 711
- Drinking water (questions about public water supply): 287-2070
- Radon: 287-5676
Office of Local Public Health - find your local public health officer
Health Inspection Program:
Also, the non-profit agency Maine Indoor Air Quality Council (626-8115) is a reliable resource and posts useful information.
What if I think there is lead paint in my apartment?
You can be tested or have your children tested for lead. Ask your family doctor or clinic about lead tests. If your child's test shows a very high level of lead, the lab will tell the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in Augusta (see below). They can inspect your home for free and order your landlord to remove the lead. This program gives other help and information, as well.
If you want to check the paint or water in your home for lead, ask your landlord for help or call one of these state agencies:
- The Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory at 287-2727 (Water testing)
- Maine State Housing Authority 1-800-452-4668 (Paint testing; they can also test for lead in soil where your child plays.)
Some Community Action Programs (CAPs) can also help you with dust testing.
For More Information Contact
- Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
- Lead Hazard Prevention Program, DEP: 1-800-452-1942
- Lead Hazard Control Program, MSHA: 1-800-452-4668
If you have a young child who has been harmed by lead poisoning and your landlord did not tell you about the lead in your building or failed to give you other required warnings, your landlord may be fined or made to pay you money. Get legal advice.
For all places built before 1978, a landlord must give you 30 days advance notice before doing any repairs or renovations that could disturb lead-based paint. This notice includes postings on all outside entry doors and a certified mail letter to all units in the building. Or the landlord can post the notices and get a signed written form, called a waiver, from an adult in each unit. The waiver must contain specific warnings. Your landlord can be fined up to $500 for each violation of these notice rules. If you believe that you or your children have suffered harm because your landlord failed to properly tell you about planned repairs or renovations, you can report the violation to your local District Attorney or the Maine Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.
The purpose of this law is to make sure that you have opportunity to protect yourself and your children from lead dust while work is being done to your home. Also, your landlord must use lead-safe practices to reduce your risk of exposure to lead.
Bedbugs: What can I do to avoid them and get rid of them?
Bed bugs have become common in Maine. They are difficult to get rid of. If you think you have bedbugs, contact your landlord and ask them to start professional treatment. You and others in the building will also have responsibilities to help get rid of the bugs, like preparing for treatments.
Before you rent:
It is illegal for a landlord to rent an apartment that they know (or suspect) to have bedbugs. Your landlord must also tell you whether other nearby apartments in the building have bedbug problems.
Before you rent ask when the apartment and nearby units:
- were last inspected for bedbugs, and
- found to be free of bedbugs.
The landlord must give you an honest answer.
What happens if my apartment is infected with bedbugs after I move in?
First, you must tell your landlord right away. To create a record, it is probably a good idea to do this in writing. Get a sample letter here. After that, both you and your landlord must make efforts to fix the problem. Here is how it works:
- After you notify your landlord, they must inspect your apartment within 5 days.
- Next, your landlord must contact a state certified pest control expert within 10 days of inspecting and finding bedbugs.
- Then your landlord must take all reasonable steps to treat the problem, based on the expert’s advice.
- Your landlord and the pest control expert will probably need access to your bed, furniture and other belongings. They must be respectful of your privacy but at the same time do whatever inspections are needed to take care of the problem. You need to cooperate to get rid of the bedbugs.
NOTE: Your landlord should always give you 24-hour advance notice before entering your apartment or sending pest control experts, unless it’s an emergency. See Rights of Maine Renters: Landlord Coming Into Your Home.
What if I can’t afford to “cooperate?”
To help get rid of the bedbugs, you may be asked to move furniture, wash clothing, linens, or take other steps to assist in the process. If you cannot afford to do these things or are not able to do them, your landlord can go ahead with the necessary steps and charge you for any costs specific to you (such as moving your furniture or laundering your linens). Your landlord must tell you what these costs will be in advance. If your landlord fronts these costs for you, after first telling you how much they will be, they can ask that you repay those costs over a 6-month period (or longer, by agreement).
What should I do if my landlord doesn’t do anything to get rid of the bedbugs?
You can take your landlord to court. If successful, you can get at least $250 or your “actual damages” (whatever you lost), whichever amount is greater. To win your court case you must show that:
- you gave your landlord verbal or written notice of the problem when you learned about it;
- the landlord didn’t follow the required steps under the law (for example, your landlord failed to hire a pest control company that is licensed to treat for bedbugs after you notified them of the bedbug problem); and
- you did not do anything that stopped your landlord from successfully treating the bedbugs.
Note: If your landlord tries to evict you within six months of your complaint, the law may protect you. See Retaliation Defenses.
- Make sure you have correctly identified the bug. You can send samples to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's Insect Lab. You can also compare the bugs in your home with pictures of bedbugs, like these ones.
- Avoid picking up beds, mattresses and other old furniture off the street or from the dump.
- When moving to a new place from one with bed bugs, make sure that you are not bringing the bugs, or their eggs, with you in your belongings. (See linked articles below.)
Here is a helpful resource on bed bugs, how to identify them, and how to get rid of them:
Some Maine landlords have been using high-heat treatment as a remedy. (Landlords and homeowners should consult with a qualified, experienced expert.)
Mold occurs naturally and not all kinds of mold are dangerous. Your landlord must fix a mold problem that impacts your health or safety. If you think you have mold, ask your landlord to find and fix the water problem that is allowing mold to grow, then to fix any water damage. If this doesn't work, follow the above steps. Approach your landlord again with findings from your local health officer and your doctor, if you can get them.
The state's Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory is no longer doing mold testing. Some private labs will do testing, but it is expensive.
For more information contact:
- Office of Local Public Health 287-6227.
- The non-profit agency Maine Indoor Air Quality Council (626-8115) is a reliable resource and posts useful information about indoor molds.
- The federal EPA posts: A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home
Yes. All apartments must have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in or near bedrooms. Any carbon monoxide alarm in an apartment that needs to be replaced after January 1, 2016 must be replaced with an alarm that runs on electricity with a battery backup or on a single-use battery that will last for 10 years. In apartment buildings with more than three stories, all hallways must have smoke alarms. All new smoke alarms put in after October 2009 must plug into the wall and have a battery backup.
Single-family homes built or renovated after 1981 must also have smoke alarms. Any renovation that adds a bedroom must include a carbon monoxide alarm. If that renovation is done after January 1st, 2016, (or if an alarm required by this law needs to be replaced after January 1, 2016) the new carbon monoxide alarm must run on electricity with a battery backup. All new smoke alarms put in after October 2009 must also plug into the wall and have a battery backup.
If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, you may request a non-audible alarm. If your landlord refuses, you may put one in yourself and deduct the actual cost from your rent. (See below.)
Any smoke alarm located within 20 feet of the kitchen or a bathroom containing a tub or shower must be photoelectric-type smoke detector, unless it is in a bedroom in which case it may be an ionization-type smoke detector.
Landlords may be fined up to $500 for each violation of these rules.
- Test alarms periodically
- Make sure the batteries are working
- Not disable alarms,
- Notify the landlord in writing when an alarm is not functioning properly, and
- Notify your town code office or fire department if your landlord does not promptly provide working smoke and CO2 detectors after your notice.
How do I know if my building has dangerous radon levels?
Radon is a gas you can't see or smell that can be harmful to your health. According to Maine DHHS radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. When you move into a rental you can ask your landlord about radon. They must tell you about the radon levels in the building. You can ask when the last radon test was done. If there hasn’t been a radon test in the past 10 years and there is not a radon mitigation system in place, the landlord is required to do the testing and tell you in writing within 30 days of getting those results.
Generally, the person who tests the air in your building must be registered with the state's Division of Environmental Health at DHHS . (There are some exceptions for landlord- or tenant-conducted testing.) To help landlords comply with these rules, DHHS has issued this standard disclosure form. For more information on radon, see Maine DHHS's Radon Home Page.
The landlord is not required to fix radon problems. A landlord who chooses to fix the problem must use a licensed radon mitigation person. If a test result shows radon levels are over 4.0 picocuries per liter of air, then either the landlord or tenant may end the tenancy with a 30-day notice. This means that your landlord cannot keep your security deposit just because you ended your lease early due to a radon test result.
Violation of these requirements can result in a $250 fine per violation. If your landlord has not given you the required notice, then your landlord has also violated Maine's "implied warranty of fitness for human habitation." Landlords must also report results to Maine DHHS.
Can I fix the problem myself?
Sometimes if a repair is not too major, you can "repair and deduct." You can fix the problem and deduct the cost of the repair from your next month's rent. Here are the rules:
(1) Your problem must be one that makes your home unhealthy or unsafe. Examples:
- no heat or not enough heat in the winter (More about heating issues)
- unsafe drinking water
- falling ceiling
- unsafe wiring
(2) You must be able to fix the problem for less than $500 or half of your monthly rent, whichever is greater. For example:
- If your rent is $800 per month, you can spend up to $500 to do the repair.
- If your rent is $1,200, you can spend up to $600.
- This amount is increased to two times your monthly rent if your building is in foreclosure.
(3) You, your family, or your guests did not cause the problem.
(4) Before you fix the problem, you must write a letter to your landlord. Send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. In the letter, ask your landlord to fix the dangerous condition within 14 days, or sooner if it is an emergency. Tell them if they do not do the repair, you will have it fixed and deduct the cost from your rent. (We have a form letter you can use. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it. Go here if you need help downloading this free software.) If your landlord offers to fix the problem, then you must let your landlord into your home to do the repair. See Rights of Maine Renters: Landlord Coming Into Your Home.
(5) If you have the work done, both the work and the materials must be of good quality. If your problem is with the heating, plumbing, or electricity, you must get a licensed worker to do the repairs.
(6) After the work is done, send the landlord a copy of the bill. Keep the original bill. Then you can deduct the cost from your rent payment.
Here are a few more "repair and deduct" limitations:
- You cannot use "repair and deduct" if your landlord lives in your building and there are fewer than 5 apartments.
- If you do the repairs yourself, you can deduct for parts and materials but not for your labor.
- Members of your immediate family cannot charge for labor either.
- You cannot hold your landlord responsible if anyone gets hurt doing the repairs.
What if the repairs cost more than $500.00 or half my monthly rent (or 2 x monthly rent if building is in foreclosure)?
You and your neighbors may be able to use "repair and deduct" together to fix a bigger problem. For example, your building might have a bad roof or furnace which costs a lot to fix. If you had 8 tenants who each pay $800 per month, you could pay for a repair costing as much as $4000 (8 x $500).
Caution: We do not know of anyone who has tried this before in Maine. If you want to try a group "repair and deduct," try to talk with a lawyer first.
My landlord just stopped paying their utility bills. What can I do?
Your agreement was that the landlord would pay for utilities – such as lights, electric heat, fuel or water. Then they stopped paying. You can legally put the account in your name, pay the bill, and then deduct the cost from your rent.
If this doesn’t work to make you even, you can sue your landlord for the amount you actually spent on utilities. The court can also order the landlord to pay your court costs and lawyer’s fees.
Read more about how your town may be willing to help you with heat and utilities.
No. You will risk eviction and can still be charged for the rent while you are living there. Talk to a lawyer before you decide to stop paying rent.
Exception to the rule: If your apartment burns down or is so damaged that you can no longer live there (and it's not your fault), you do not have to pay rent from the day you are forced out.
I have tried all of the things you have suggested but my home still is not safe. What about suing my landlord in court?
Warning your landlord of court action may be enough to get the problem fixed. If not, you may either want to move or to sue.
To win a lawsuit, you must meet these tests:
- Your problem must be serious--something that makes your home unsafe or unhealthy.
- You, your family or guests did not cause the problem.
- You must tell your landlord about the problem in writing soon after you discovered the problem, and give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to get it fixed. (Telling the building manager or someone else who collects rent for the landlord may be good enough. But the best way to prove that your landlord knew about the problem is by giving them written notice and keeping a copy.) Get sample form here.
- You should be fully up-to-date in your rent payments at the time you give the landlord written notice.
If your landlord does not fix the problem within a reasonable time after you give the written notice, talk to a lawyer about going to court or file a complaint in Small Claims Court yourself. (If you need quick action, going to Small Claims Court may take too long.)
At a court hearing the judge will decide whether your landlord has given you a safe and healthy place to live. The judge may order any of these remedies:
- that your landlord fix the apartment
- that you must pay less rent, or no rent, until the landlord does the repairs
- that your landlord must pay you back some of the rent you have paid
No. A landlord cannot force you to accept unsafe or unfit housing. You can agree voluntarily to live with certain unsafe or unfit conditions. An agreement like this is only valid if:
- it is in writing
- it says exactly what unsafe conditions you have agreed to live with
- it says exactly how much the rent was lowered because of the unsafe conditions
Maine law provides some extra protections to tenants whose homes become unsafe due to violence. Read more here.
Updated August, 2023